Vicki Madden | 9th January 2017
Admittedly, it’s been a while since I considered the US home. I’ve always felt as American as apple pie, but there’s just something about “going home” that scares me these days. An uncanny feeling of estrangement hits me every time I’m driving around unfamiliar roads in my hometown, getting lost amongst cookie cutter suburban houses. But it’s not just the topography that’s alien to me now. It’s the entire “feel” of the country. The mere fact that my foreign service dad feels it’s necessary to point out all the exits in the cinema lest a gunman should walk in makes me feel like I could never live in the States again.
Recently, my fragile idea of home took another blow when Donald Trump won the presidential election, something I never actually thought possible. Back in August, I wrote an article in which I ran Trump through the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, found that he fit the criteria for a psychopath pretty much to a tee, and questioned what it would reveal about the American electorate if we voted such a man into the White House. Noew we’re two weeks away from swearing him in as the 45th President of the United States. So my question becomes: where do we go from here? How does a country so obviously fractured pick up the pieces and move into the future? What kind of future can we even expect at this point?
Forgive me if these questions sound alarmist, but as someone who spends all her time researching gothic literature, I’ve read my fair share of apocalyptic narratives and can’t help but spot some parallels here . A sexist, racist, thin-skinned demagogue in the nation’s highest office, sitting on nuclear codes that if used could wipe out hundreds of millions of people? That sounds eerily like the prologue to an apocalyptic horror story to me. Add in a whole bunch of sinister middle-aged white men who want to end affordable healthcare and restrict reproductive rights in one fell swoop and we have all the fixings for a dystopian society here, only these threats are all too palpable. It truly feels like for all that the US, a nation Leslie Fiedler described as “the land of light and affirmation,” claims it was built upon the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and progress, we’ve moved several steps backwards recently: out of the light and into gothic times.
But surely, the last thing to do now would be to despair. Just a few days ago, in fact, Michelle Obama delivered her final address as first lady and implored, “young people, don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful.” At the risk of sounding facetious, isn’t that just the kind of pep talk you find at the turning point of an apocalyptic thriller? For me, Mrs. Obama’s speech was just what I needed to hear.
As someone who has found it difficult to process a lot of what has been happening in my home country, all I wanted to do after the election was shut down, give up, walk away once and for all. And I clearly wasn’t the only one. So many Americans were looking to immigrate to Canada on the 8th of November that we crashed the official Canadian immigration website.
That impulse to move somewhere new and forget the past in search of a brighter future? That’s also a running theme in gothic and apocalyptic narratives, especially ones set within the United States. Unfortunately, that promise of mobility that we Americans take for granted almost always reveals itself to be spurious. You can’t just relocate and start over afresh; things don’t just go away when you run from them. Considering the effects of a Trump presidency will surely be felt worldwide, there really is no place to hide anymore, making the only solution for combatting the Trumpocalypse to stand your ground. Stay and fight. Take the battle to Trump himself.
Of course at this point, I feel it’s necessary to remind myself that more than scaring us, apocalypse narratives ultimately also reveal how much stronger people are after they’ve been through hell. No matter what kind of devastation we’re faced with, society always manages to rebuild itself in the end. Let’s just all do what we can to make sure it doesn’t actually come to that.
Vicki is writing her PhD on the gothicisation of mental illness in post-World War II American literature with an emphasis on the uncanny. When she’s not nose deep in taboo subjects and psychoanalysis, she enjoys writing gothic stories of her own and watching a healthy mix of scary movies and romantic comedies.
Article edited by Katie Hawthorne and Katie Goh.
 Funnily enough, Slate has an entire subsection devoted to Trump Apocalypse Watch.
 Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York: Stein and Day, 1966. Pg. 29.